FRONTLINE: DIGITAL NATION (TV)

Summary

One in this documentary series. This program, a follow-up to the 2007 installment "Growing Up Online," further explores the societal effects of digital technology. Correspondents Rachel Dretzin and Douglas Rushkoff visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and talk with several students about being constantly "wired in" to their cell phones and computers, including during class time, though professors Sherry Turkle and David Jones express doubt that the students are "multitasking" as efficiently as they believe they are. Prof. Clifford Nass at Stanford conducts several experiments about students' ability to focus while distracted by other tasks, such as talking on the phone while driving, and states that they are in fact "terrible" at doing more than one thing well at once. Aware that kids spend up to fifty hours a week on digital activity, Dr. Gary Small of UCLA compares MRI images of a subject reading a book to that of a subject performing an online search. Though the latter seems to show more brain activity, Small explains that Internet use is not necessarily "making us smarter" as some believe. Prof. Mark Bauerlein of Emory University explains that technology simply evolves too quickly to be thoroughly researched, and Small compares it to society's belated understanding of the health dangers of cigarettes.

Dretzin and Rushkoff head to South Korea, where teenagers often spend hours on end in Internet cafés known as "PC Bangs," noting that people have in fact died after binging on computer games. The country famously emerged from an economic crisis thanks to its technological advances, but now many young people, including fifteen-year-old Chung Young-Il, are showing signs of serious addiction to their devices. Young-Il's mother states that he plays computer games for up to eight hours a day and that his grades have slipped, and she eventually sends him to a two-week "Internet Rescue Camp," which features counseling and activities designed to "recapture a childhood." Rushkoff explains that he had high hopes for the Internet's capabilities when he first began writing about technology in the early 1990s, but now admits that things have changed and young people seem "overwhelmed" by it. In Korean elementary schools, children are taught from an early age about healthy Internet-usage habits and "netiquette," though Rushkoff is unsure if such methods would work in America.

Dretzin decides to send her son to a school requiring extensive laptop use for homework and study, and high school history teacher Steven Maher points out that the academic and business worlds no longer require the traditional memorization habits formed by studying out of books. Bronx-based principal Jason Levy explains how he revolutionized his foundering high school by encouraging the students' access to educational technology, which he feels is "like oxygen," resulting in higher scores and fewer violent incidents. Author Todd Oppenheimer, however, feels that a tech-heavy education leads to a shorter attention span because of the "instant gratification" factor, and Dretzin notes that the students can override the school's firewalls and access non-academic websites like Facebook and YouTube during class. The staff monitors the kids' activities via their webcams, feeling that developing an ability to multitask will later benefit them in the job market. Bauerlein, author of "The Dumbest Generation," declares that students rarely read full-length books anymore and instead opt for the SparkNotes, leading to diminished skills in reading and writing. Nass and the MIT students agree that they tend to write in short paragraphs, or "bursts of ideas," rather than long, continuous thoughts, due to their frequent distractions.

Professor James Paul Gee of Arizona University points out that methods of communication are constantly changing, drawing comparisons to the historical shift from oral culture to print, and USC Prof. Henry Jenkins suggests that new advances should be met with "open-mindedness." Dretzin and Rushkoff observe many viewers' testimonials about their own experience with technology, including the amusing grandmother/grandson online cooking show "Feed Me Bubbe," in which 83-year-old Bayla Sher shares her culinary skills with a new generation. Dretzin and Rushkoff then explore the "vicarious life" of infamously addictive multi-player games like World of Warcraft, heading to California to attend the Blizzard Entertainment Convention, where many enthusiasts meet their longtime Internet friends face-to-face for the first time. Dretzin and Rushkoff note the "intense quality" of gamer friendships, which in some cases lead to marriage. Philip Rosedale, inventor of Second Life, in which players can create avatars and engage together in highly realistic worlds, explains his hopes to alter society's perceptions of interaction and alienation. IBM employees use the game to conduct meetings and save a good deal of money on air travel, and Rushkoff tours the nearly-empty IBM office park, marveling at how many employees now work from home and rarely interact in person.

At Stanford, Jeremy Bailenson runs a virtual interaction lab, studying how the brain can be "tricked" into believing that certain simulations are real. One test even proves that false memories can be "created" in children by showing them faked footage of an activity, such as swimming with whales. Psychologist Dr. Michael Kramer discusses how simulations are also used to assist war veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Dretzin notes that technology is now a key factor in military actions with the use of unmanned drones. Drones are "costless" to soldiers' lives and create an unusual sense of detachment, due to the pilots' great distance from the strikes, though Dretzin notes that "estimates vary" about the number of civilian deaths caused by such actions. Author P.W. Singer points out the strange irony of being simultaneously "at war and at home," in sharp contrast to society's long history of dangerous in-person battles. At the "Army Experience Center" in Philadelphia, recruiters chat with young visitors as they play war-simulation video games, though many protest the use of games as a "soft sell" for military enlistment. Quest to Learn director of design Katie Salen explains that she created a New York City public school centered entirely around educational computer games, stating that they keep the students actively engaged in learning, though Oppenheimer dismisses the idea as "hogwash." Turkle muses that technology is not wholly negative or positive but instead "challenges us to assert our human values," and she opines that society will find a reasonable balance with these new developments, as with all past examples of progress. Commercials deleted.

Details

  • NETWORK:
  • DATE: February 2, 2010 9:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:26:45
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: 103937
  • GENRE: Public affairs/Documentaries
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Education/Information
  • SERIES RUN: PBS - TV series, 1983-
  • COMMERCIALS: TV - Promos - "Frontline" home video^TV - Promos - "Frontline" upcoming episode

CREDITS

    • Michael Sullivan … Executive Producer
    • David Fanning … Executive Producer
    • Robin Parmelee … Coordinating Producer
    • Sharon Tiller … Senior Producer
    • Raney Aronson-Rath … Senior Producer
    • Rachel Dretzin … Producer, Director, Writer, Reporter
    • Caitlin McNally … Co-Producer
    • R.A. Fedde … Co-Producer
    • Jeffrey Irvine … Associate Producer
    • Douglas Rushkoff … Writer, Reporter
    • Joel Goodman … Music by
    • Mason Daring … Theme Music by
    • Martin Brody … Theme Music by
    • Sherry Turkle … Interviewee
    • David Jones … Interviewee
    • Clifford Nass … Interviewee
    • Gary Small … Interviewee
    • Mark Bauerlein … Interviewee
    • Chung Young-Il … Interviewee
    • Steven Maher … Interviewee
    • Jason Levy … Interviewee
    • Todd Oppenheimer … Interviewee
    • James Paul Gee … Interviewee
    • Henry Jenkins … Interviewee
    • Bayla Sher … Interviewee
    • Philip Rosedale … Interviewee
    • Jeremy Bailenson … Interviewee
    • Michael Kramer … Interviewee
    • P.W. Singer … Interviewee
    • Katie Salen … Interviewee